EDITORIAL: 99%, “My Life Sucks,” Dogfighting, and Brady’s Brain

Monday, August 07, 2017


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Tom Brady - is his brain immune from injury?

Is football akin to dog fighting? Will all NFL players die battered after miserable post-playing lives -- many suffering from brain damage? Is Tom Brady's longevity a cruel trick on the great one?

It has been nearly eight years since Malcolm Gladwell wrote his piece in The New Yorker about the long-term tragic impact of football on the brain of those that play the game. It outlines the post-football life, “There were men with aching knees and backs and hands, from all those years of playing football. But their real problem was with their heads, the one part of their body that got hit over and over again.” 

Gladwell's article, “Offensive Play —How different are dogfighting and football?” is one of a growing number of looks at the depressing post-football life of the players - viewed by many as American heroes. He wrote it 2009.

“My Life Sucks”

Now in 2017, Jim Plunkett, who was a Super Bowl hero back in the day and now 69, told the San Jose Mercury News, “My life sucks.” Plunkett's body is broken and he is in constant pain.  Once a man like Tom Brady - overcoming obstacles and realizing NFL quarterback hero status -- he is now devastated physically and his wife says in the same interview that Plunkett’s mind is being ravaged by the years of head injuries.

Math — 99% of NFL

In July, a paper in the JAMA found that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, known as CTE, was found in 99% of deceased NFL players' brains — those that were donated for scientific research. And, CTE was found in three of the 14 high school players and 48 of the 53 college players whose brains were tested. CTE is directly linked to memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, anxiety, impulse control issues, and suicidal behavior. A slew of former NFL players have committed suicide in the past few years and their brains were found to have CTE. 

Beautiful Brady

While so many love the amazing story of Brady’s greatest of all-time title and marvel at his longevity built of his dedication to physical performance, luck, genetics, and kale salads, the reality is none of those things can protect his brain from the impact of years of missed blocks or blindside corner blitzes.

The collective failure of those missed blocks and defensive scheming of opponents may not have stopped the Patriots from being the great team in NFL history, but they have taken their toll on jarring the brain of Brady no less than any other player. The reality is that the longer he plays, the more his brain is impacted.

His longevity is now working against his future — the statistics prove it. The list of NFL players who were found to have CTE is long and depressingly catastrophic. The Patriots alone can claim Junior Seau, Most Tatupu, and Kevin Turner -- all tested after death and all suffered from CTE.  Seau killed himself at age 43, Tatupu was 54 at the time of his death, and Turner died of ALS believed to be linked to CTE at the age of 46.

Deviant Behavior

Gladwell ends the article with a passage from “Dogmen and Dogfights,” an academic analysis of deviant behavior by Rhonda Evans and Craig Forsyth about those involved with dogfighting.  

The authors write:

“When one views a staged dog fight between pit bulls for the first time, the most macabre aspect of the event is that the only sounds you hear from these dogs are those of crunching bones and cartilage. The dogs rip and tear at each other; their blood, urine and saliva splatter the sides of the pit and clothes of the handlers. . . . The emotions of the dogs are conspicuous, but not so striking, even to themselves, are the passions of the owners of the dogs. Whether they hug a winner or in the rare case, destroy a dying loser, whether they walk away from the carcass or lay crying over it, their fondness for these fighters is manifest."


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